UM Frost students’ concerns crescendo with deteriorating practice rooms

Practice room on the second floor of Foster with dated features and small, crammed space Photo credit: Layla Gravelle

Once resonant with constant echoing melodies, the outdated practice rooms at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music have left students with accessibility challenges and concerns about the impact on their education and health.

“The school prioritizes our practice schedule so much,” Lexi Foss, a music industry major and classical voice principal, said. “The problem is we do not have the proper facilities to practice in.”

Constructed in 1961, the Bertha Foster Memorial Music Building’s old architecture is causing a series of problems that students face every day. From bacteria growth to accessibility difficulties, the state of the rooms is far from how it should be for the aspiring musicians to practice effectively.

Located on the west side of campus by Lake Osceola, breathing inside the building is difficult, as the hot and stagnant air remains trapped inside because of limited airflow. Mold can be found in corners and crevices, on the ceilings, in the ventilation system and in the stairwell, which creates unhealthy air quality inside the building.

Mold and layers of filth can be seen on the heavy doors and air conditioning vents in the Foster building
Mold and layers of filth can be seen on the heavy doors and air conditioning vents in the Foster building Photo credit: Layla Gravelle

“It’s frustrating because my instrument is my voice and requires a lot of breath control,” Foss said. “Breathing inside the building in general is difficult, let alone singing opera, which requires so much lung capacity.”

Air purifiers can be found in a few of the larger rooms on the first floors where musicians who play larger instruments tend to practice, but the majority of the rooms don’t have them or are too small to fit an air purifier inside.

Foss and other students often leave the upstairs door cracked open with a plastic trash can in hopes of creating more circulation throughout the building.

However, this DIY air conditioning doesn’t provide enough airflow to create a comfortable work environment. Without a proper air-conditioning system, the structure holds humid air inside and creates a moist environment within the rooms, making it uncomfortable and hot.

This moisture in the Foster building is also contributing to mold growth, leaving water in the ventilation and the carpet upholstery an ecosystem ideal for it to grow and flourish. This climate has become a breeding ground for bacteria and pests, like cockroaches, to thrive, which Frost students often see scurrying throughout the practice rooms.

“You can probably find mold in most places throughout the building, especially on the second floor,” Sierra Hudson, an instrumental performance and English major, said. “I play bass, so our practice rooms are on the first floor and get more attention, but for the most part they seem to pretend these problems don’t exist.”

In addition to the poor conditions of the building, disabled students in the Frost school are facing various accessibility challenges due to the dated features.

“It’s one of the only buildings on campus that do not have push-button doors because it’s a historic building,” Foss said. “To get upstairs you have to exit the building and go up a long ramp. It’s quite the process and it’s extremely difficult for disabled students to have to navigate.”

With heavy doors that have large sills at the bottom, many disabled students are left struggling to get into and out of the building on a daily basis.

The metal at the bottom of the doors makes it difficult for those in wheelchairs to wheel over without getting stuck and the doors are difficult to push at their weight. The ramp to go upstairs is steep and makes going to the second-floor practice rooms a challenge.

The accessibility issue also affects those who play large instruments, like bass or cello, who have to carry or roll their equipment in and out of the building and into practice rooms. Often the musicians who play these larger instruments will have to wait for someone to come along who can open the door for them.

With rooms the size of cubicles and little to no windows, the inside is claustrophobic. From baby grand pianos to marimbas, various instruments are crammed into the practice rooms, offering little space for movement and access for the disabled in the already cramped area.

The Frost School of Music has an 800-person student body, and the ratio of the cramped practice rooms to the amount of students is far from enough.

With only 40 small practice rooms, 9 piano major rooms and 4 percussion rooms, it is difficult for students to practice the amount of time they need to.

Even those who choose to reserve a room have allotted time slots and limits, sometimes having to kick other students out and cutting other musicians short of necessary practice time.

These issues have left many students with no other choice but to practice on the grass outside, while some forgo practicing altogether.

“You will rarely be able to find a room during the day,” said Hudson. “Some students even have limits and are only allowed to practice for a short amount of time based on how long they can book a room for.”

The newly constructed recital hall, the Knight Center for Innovation, finished in 2023, cost the University $36.5 million. Yet, many notice that those resources have not been allocated to the Frost School of Music for the improvement of the deteriorating infrastructure.

Despite the increase in concern, there have been no attempts to manage the issues inside the building, largely because it is considered historic on campus.

However, the interior and exterior conditions are being evaluated for possible demolition and reconstruction in the future, and steps are being taken to improve the quality of Frost students’ well-being, experience and education at UM.

In the meantime, students are hoping that conditions inside the building will improve for the upcoming school year as the Frost school raises funds for the new structure.

“I think taking a month during summer when nobody is here to clean out the whole building would be very beneficial,” said Hudson. “Ripping the carpets out, killing the mold and mildew and tenting the place would improve conditions significantly for Frost students.”